Ackerman Buick: 50 Years and Gone

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Ackerman Buick
near the intersection of New Halls Ferry & Dunn Road
Dellwood, MO

I previously covered Ackerman Buick, and the short post brought on some great comments, including:
It’s kinda depressing now, but I can remember when that was the most energetic, happening intersection in North County. Maybe, someday, it will come back…I hope so…

The above photo was taken the day after Thanksgiving 2009. I made the trek back out because after having been dark for a spell, the lights were back on with cars for sale in the lot, and and an Ackerman sign was back up when it had been gone for several years.

And across the window they declared in huge, bright letters: Here 50 Years!  Now, these weren’t 50 continuous years; owner Jerry Ackerman sold the franchise to Behlman in 2006, and in 2007 it became a Hyundai franchise, which is when they took down the gigantic lighted letters that spelled “Buick.” That right there was the end of an era, but at least the complex was still open. Then it went dark and empty.

So seeing the lights back on and a temporary Ackerman sign going up on the building was a thrill. The original owners were returning, and crowing about it: Here 50 Years! That kind of pride of place is rare in the retail world.

And suddenly, the old neon sign (above) was relevant once again! They still had the same phone number, they had used cars, everything was returning to the way it had once been. How does something like this happen in today’s world? I was not ashamed to have tears of happiness in my eyes as I stared up at the flickering neon roaring through the glass tubes once again.

Jerry Ackerman bought out Kuhs Buick, which was on North Grand, and in the early 1960s he uprooted that neon sign and brought it out to burgeoning North County. The little building above was the first new structure to go up on the property in 1964.  The winged, main building went up in 1965.

They eventually had over 9 acres, sloping up toward West Florissant, along the Hwy 270 service road. As you can see from the aerial map above, it was not only an auto complex, but an entire village! I never bought a car from there, never even stepped on the lot until 2003 to take photos, but this town within a town aspect always fascinated me. You could watch the complex unfold as you tooled down the highway; the sign next to the round building at the top of the hill was always flashing come-ons; it was a spiritual epicenter for a happening part of a Baby Boom suburban town, straddling the lines between Dellwood, Ferguson and Florissant.

This ad from a 1969 issue of Look magazine was passed to me by a 25-year Ackerman Buick employee, Tim Von Cloedt. I made his cyber acquaintance when he commented on the May 2009 B.E.L.T. post about the place.  He grew up in the neighborhood directly behind the complex,  riding his bike through the lot as a boy, and eventually coming to work there. He has supplied much of the historical information herein, and major thanks to him for helping to create this mini-memorial.

While talking about the sad, run-down state of the now-vacant Ackerman at a family dinner, my cousin Kathy revealed that she had almost been arrested on her high school graduation night in 1973 for drunkenly trying to climb the elephant on their lot.  Ackerman bought the fake elephant – bolted to a small trailer so it could be tooled around the lot – when Buick was selling Opels, and it was huge and iconic in the area. My cousin only made it halfway up when a cop put a stop to it. That elephant now resides at a golf range owned by a former used car salesman at 370 and Missouri Bottoms.

The round showcase building at the top of the hill housed many different Ackerman-owned business over the years, including GMC motor homes, Chris-Craft boats, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

Curving off the round building is this folded, metal promenade that led to the parts department. This is a two-story structure tucked into the hill, and is the eastern boundary of the property, serving as a fortress wall. I used to wonder how many times a day employees had to make the trek from up here down to the main building and how many calories did that burn?

Jerry Ackerman gave it another try at this location, which was when the lights came back on, and the Here 50 Years! declaration was made. But a deal went bad and it went dark again. Come Labor Day 2010 (above) weeds were growing up through the once-immaculate blacktop, fascia was falling off the water-logged building, and vandals had been riding roughshod. It was just sad to pass by a place that was once so vibrant with activity now so still and forlorn. And what do you do with such a huge swath of property that was always devoted to motor vehicles?

On February 26, 2011 they held a public auction for the contents of the buildings. It was a bitterly cold, damp and grey day, but it was nice to see vehicles all over the lot one last time, and tons of people (mostly men) milling about the place, buying up a wide array of items.

After all these years, I finally made it inside the winged building! But the water damage was so bad that it was hard to breathe from all the mold, so even though it was warmer in there than outside, I had to vacate.

Most of the auction lots were inside the former service department. Lots of auto repair equipment, to be sure, but also decades worth of furniture and…

…the lighted Buick letters! These sold for $300, and this is why you should never throw anything away. I do hope someone bought the original Ackerman neon sign. And there was one item for sale that nearly broke my heart:

This large painting is signed “Charles Morgenhaler, 1949,” and shows the Kuhs Auto building on North Grand, the dealership Jerry Ackerman bought out. At the bottom middle, in white paint is “1.30.64.” It looks as if this is when the painting was altered to Ackerman Buick on the building’s neon marquee and windows. Meaning, Ackerman inherited the painting and altered it, then took it with him out to North County. And after all of these generations of history unfolding, it now hung in the last stall of the service bay, soaking up the damp, waiting for its next home.

I hope someone bought it. Or that Jerry or his son took it home as a keepsake.

The main building is scheduled to come down any day now, with the rest of the buildings right behind it. By the end of March 2011, it will be vacant land, which is for sale. Maybe it’s better to have the vacant land than to have the once mighty Ackerman Buick sit there decaying, reminding everyone of glory days that passed by in 50 years, then gone.

Readers have asked exactly where the original Kuhs Buick was on North Grand. Thank you Larry Giles for filling us in. Click this link to see it on Google maps.

Larry also shared this photo of his mother Beverly Giles (passenger side) inside the Kuhs showroom, where she was the office manager in the late 1950s.

I’ve also been told that the mayor of Ferguson had yet to receive a demolition permit for the Ackerman site, so maybe those buildings aren’t coming down so quickly? Let’s cross our fingers and hope it’s true!

The building was taken down in one day on August 15, 2011. Video footage here.

18 thoughts on “Ackerman Buick: 50 Years and Gone

  1. Never bought a car there, but looked at Chris Craft boats there….at one time thay had a bunch of them. Jerry was an interesting guy.

  2. It was Xmas 1969, the era of the ubiquitous station wagon. We were on our way from Milwaukee to our cousins in Kansas City. It was snowing hard. When we got as far as St. Louis, our 1966 Buick Sport Wagon loaded with Xmas gifts, started going Thump! Thump! Thump! We thought it was my little brother hitting the window in protest to being relegated to the “wayback”. MY unnerved Dad said: “Does he HAVE to DO that? My brother next to me in the back seat said: “He’s not doing it anymore”, but we kept hearing the Thump! Thump! Thump! UNDER THE HOOD! The car jerked and finally died right in front of Ackerman Buick! It was towed into the service area and diagnosed with a “blown valve”. They had the engine all in pieces after an hour or so. Were we gong to spend Xmas at a car dealer? “NO”, said my Dad. “We’re buying a NEW Car!”. So after transferring ALL the packed Xmas gifts, we were off to Kansas city in a new 1970 Sport Wagon! Unfortunately it no longer featured the “Vista dome” glass ceiling over the back seat like our old car, but it lasted over 15 years and is what I Iearned to drive, and took my drivers test in, and PASSED the first time! This is my memory of Ackerman Buick.

  3. Hello,

    My name is Bob Perry, my father Bob had worked with Jerry since day one as secratary treasure I work in the body shop from 1981 until 1993 lots of memories. I talked to Jay the other day at Toyota.

  4. Spirtas wrecking should have their demo permit today. If you want some pics, you better get them now. 🙁

  5. Seen a demo truck out in the parking lot today. I guess it’s coming down soon.

  6. I would like to know if the building is for sale and the price you are asking. I can be reach at 314-452-8846.

  7. Pingback: Mitsubishi Off Branch Avenue | Mitsubishi Photos Blog

  8. The site of Ackermann Buick and Central Hardware was originally a truck farm owned by my great-great-great grandfather George Sutter who immigrated from Switzerland. He died of old age.

    It then passed to his only son Bernard.
    He died from burns in a home fire.

    Then it was bought by George and Kunigunda Sutter the eldest son of Bernard. They had at least 9 children who survived infancy. The now meandering creek proved deadly to George as the intersection was funky and he drove his car one night into the creek and drowned. He was not found until the next morning.

    His widow, my great-grandmother, moved to the Baden area with her younger children. My grandfather (Ted) being one of the youngest. The older sons tried to keep the large truck farm going but it was difficult considering their young age. She eventually sold the land to sustain her family it was sold to a Church. Shortly after the sale the Church flipped the property to the Ackermann’s. The older sons were given some of the sale proceeds and moved to the Montgomery City area and began farming again, and this branch of the family still resides.

    My grandfather eventually settled in Brentwood. His daughter my Mom married a North City boy and in 1960 we moved to Florissant. My Grandad marveled at the changes which had taken place in the area He died in 1972 when the road was still two lanes. He had tons of stories of growing up on the farm and of the many adventures with his large family.

  9. Hey, I remember that place i live in Memphis, but in 02 I got transferred to St. Louis. I used to drive past there all time when I drove to work. It was still in use back then.

  10. Where was Koos Buick on North Grand? That pinting is a classic!

  11. You made this building come to life. I’ve noticed some realtors in this market have turned to writing historical stories about their properties for sale in attempts to tug at the emotional heart strings of their buyers. This piece affectionately describes the story of this abandoned sorry building. Love how you told the story.

    Beautiful photos!

  12. Thanks for once again documenting the evolution, or devolution of that (to so many of us) beloved section of North County. Like many of your readers, I have a close “relationship” with this building, walking/riding past it from my grade school on New Halls Ferry to our house in Northland Hills. (After crossing through Central City Shopping Center, of course!)

  13. Thank you, Toby, for quoting my post to your earlier article about this place!!!

    It truly is sad that an icon like Ackerman Buick is being torn down. This comes on the heels of the Halls Ferry 14 Cine being torn down last year…at least I think it was last year…maybe this intersection isn’t coming back after all…very sad…

  14. That’s pretty sad. I live five minutes from this and drive by it twice a day. I’ve always thought it would make a great retro / hotrod shop like Fast Lane in St. Chuck. My Girlfriend suggested it would be a great place for a Flea Market! Just look at those laminated beams in that showcase building…that is pretty. It’s a shame it won’t be preserved. So shortsighted.

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